Headed outdoors in Georgia this summer? Watch out for another tick disease

Michelle Hall

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(Forsyth County, GA) The summer is off to a humid and rainy start - perfect conditions for ticks to come out and hang onto the fast-growing blades of grass. For years those who enjoy spending time outdoors have had to worry about getting infectious diseases from ticks like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And now residents in Georgia have another potentially-deadly tick-borne illness to watch out for: the Heartland Virus.Dangers of tick seasonAccording to the Georgia Department of Public Health, ticks are most active from April through September and live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas.“Lonestar tick is our most common tick,” said University of Georgia entomologist Elmer Gray. “They are everywhere that there’s deer. Any place deer are around your yard, edges, there's going to be ticks.”

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Ticks are known to carry a number of diseases. In Forsyth County, 29 tick-borne diseases were identified between 2002 and 2021, according to Georgia Public Health Entomologist, Dr. Rosmarie Kelly. Scientists with Emory University identified the Heartland virus in lone star ticks in Central Georgia. The findings were published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.The Heartland virus was first discovered in Missouri in 2009. Researchers say it can be transmitted from organism to organism and possibly evolve in certain geographic areas, but there is still a lot of studying to be done because it is a relatively new virus.Symptoms to watch forThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following symptoms for the Heartland virus:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle or joint pain

Some patients have severe reactions that lead to hospitalization, while others have even died from complications of the Heartland virus.Gray said it’s common to have an allergic reaction at the site of a tick bite, but to pay close attention to it.“Any time you have an attached tick and then headache, fever, don’t feel well the days after, you should make your doctor aware of that,” Gray said.There are no vaccines to prevent Heartland virus, and because it is viral and not bacterial, antibiotics are not used to treat it. Doctors may prescribe medications to treat the symptoms of the illness.

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Protecting yourself from tick-borne diseasesThe CDC offers these tips to protect yourself against ticks:

  • Know where to expect to find ticks
  • Wear long pants tucked into boots and long sleeve shirts
  • Treat clothes and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin
  • Use insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency that contain: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone
  • Walk in the middle of trails
  • Avoid tall grass
  • Do a full body check for ticks after being outdoors
  • Shower right away
  • Check pets and gear
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If a tick is found, follow these instructions from the CDC to remove it:

  • Using clean, fine-tipped tweezers grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, pulling upward with steady, even pressure
  • Don’t twist or jerk the tick to avoid mouth-parts breaking off in the skin; if this happens remove the mouth-parts with tweezers, or if it can’t be removed, leave it alone and let the skin heal
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water
  • Never crush a tick with your fingers; dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet

“You’ve got to be careful. Ticks are not good when it comes down to it,” Gray said. “The Heartland virus is just another reason to do everything you can to prevent allowing ticks to get attached to you.” If you find a tick, you can complete a survey to have it identified by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, email michelle.hall@newsbreak.com

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